Signaling a major shift in Yemen’s grinding civil war, Saudi-backed forces on Sunday appeared to mount a large-scale offensive to drive militants aligned with al-Qaeda out of their strongholds in the country’s south.
Under cover of airstrikes from a coalition led by Saudi Arabia, fighters aligned with Yemen’s internationally recognized government pushed toward the city of Mukalla and surrounding areas. Mukalla has become the de facto capital of al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,
AQAP, considered al-Qaeda’s most powerful franchise, seized the port city last year amid widening chaos in Yemen, a development that alarmed the United States. AQAP militants have seized much of Yemen’s southeastern coastal areas and used Mukalla as a base to plant even deeper roots in the impoverished Arabian Peninsula nation, possibly to stage attacks on Western targets.
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